Taking a cue from aesthetically-minded consumer electronics companies such as Apple
, to name a few, DEI Holdings has launched a Global Design Center to foster an emphasis on the design of its audio and automotive-related products.
The DEI Global Design Center is not a physical showroom, but a directive that will feature collaborative efforts under the guidance of new chief design officer Michael DiTullo, who joined DEI Monday and brings a wide-ranging portfolio of experience - and a longtime passion for music - that suited his working for DEI brands that include Polk Audio, Definitive Technology and BOOM in the CE space.
"I come from a huge family of musicians, but I'm the only one who doesn't play an instrument, so this is my way of having that contribution," says DiTullo, who will be based at DEI's headquarters in Vista, Calif.
DiTullo studied at the Rhode Island School of Design in conjunction with Harvard Business School, the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Domus Academy in Milan, and his resume includes nearly a decade in lead design roles for Nike. He's also led projects for Google, Proctor & Gamble and Motorola, and most recently was creative director for prestigious firm Frog Design.
"The Design Center will be home to a team of multi-disciplined designers that can help shape and manifest the strategic vision of the DEI brands," DiTullo says. "The brands have this wonderful, baked-in DNA that's incredibly rich and authentic, and that's something irreplaceable, but it's important to amplify further. The market is shifting rapidly and consumers' expectations are shifting rapidly, so this is an opportunity for us to be responsive to that, embed ourselves in that and also predict it a little bit."
DEI's Design Center members will conduct "immersive/ethnographic" research to get a better pulse on what people are seeking style-wise. It's especially pertinent in the personal audio category that has seen a boom in products and manufacturers within the last couple of years, like Paradigm's entrance with its Paradigm Shift products
. Polk Audio entered the fray by debuting its Sports Headphones last year, and DEI president Kevin Duffy says that's just the beginning.
"Personal audio, Bluetooth, networked speakers, computer speakers - all those categories are on the drawing board," Duffy says. "As you get into those businesses it's even more design-intensive. The Design Center will be influential on our entire product portfolio, but some products are more demanding.
"With headphones, we went directly after the sports market, because we thought there was an opportunity to deliver high-performance audio for the motivation aspect - when you work out listening to music, you just perform better ... it certainly increases my motivation. So we wanted to bring out heritage to that marketplace. But you also have to address the problem that [headphones/earbuds] need to stay on; so they have to look good, sound good and be secure."
Duffy says he expects by the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show
(CES) that the DEI brands will have "some interesting things to talk about," regarding product introductions.
As DiTullo noted, the personal audio category is also important because the speakers/headphones tend to stay around for consumers longer than the devices they're plugged into, and manufacturers have to find ways to strike a chord with music fans so they'll want to hold onto such products. It's also a way of addressing the younger demographic.
"People are often connecting these products to a mobile device, and those typically only have a shelf life of about 18 months, so we're creating products that outlive the ones they're connecting to," DiTullo says. "We have the audio capability to produce products that sound wonderful, and we want to create things that people cherish so they don't forget to leave the house without them because its' part of the music experience."
Duffy calls the Design Center an "additive resource," and notes that the audio engineers will stay where they are, whether it's the Polk, Definitive, etc., locations as part of this collaborative process. He says DiTullo will be building the design team, however, so DEI plans on hiring both internally and externally. "We have some industrial design resources in the company, but we'll be adding resources to the pile."